What does a Project Controller do?

Alex Henderson

In the world of project management, the project controller ensures the financial health of projects. Every project attempted by a company is a financial risk. The project controller’s job is to ensure that a company doesn’t squander millions of dollars on a project with a net worth of only thousands. The project controller is often the business conscience of the project manager.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

Most resources on a project have the goal of completing the project. Only the financial part of the team has its goals measured in dollars. This job is sometimes called a project financial analyst. This title means the project controller has ultimate financial responsibility for project activities.

A project is defined as a temporary collection of work tasks designed to achieve a particular goal. Projects often get out of control, but they are ultimately supposed to be of value to the company. Every project has a list of required tasks called a critical path. Then there are other tasks, called associated tasks, that may or may not happen along that critical path.

An example of a critical path in a project to fix a car with a bad engine would be all tasks associated with repairing the engine. Associated tasks might be something such as painting the car a new color, which isn’t absolutely essential to completing the project. The project controller would see the process from the financial perspective, looking the cost of the car and how to make a profit on the car. He would then calculate the margin in the project, taking into account the most recent expenditures by the project manager. This calculation forms the net value of the project.

The project controller should be a key element in the project management process, only green lighting projects that have a profit or efficiency potential. These usually translate into savings and profit potential for the company. The overwhelming tendency often is to spend too much on projects and focus on tangible task-oriented goals, rather than financial goals. This leaves development teams, construction crews and researchers spending money they shouldn’t. Someone has to watch this process, and the project controller is responsible for doing just that.

While the project controller’s task may not sound too challenging, he does have to balance all sides and considerations of a project. He has to decide what is necessary to fund for the success of the project, while also determining what funding can be cut as an unnecessary expense. It’s something of a gamble. No matter how conscientiously the project controller does his job, there’s no guarantee the project will ever realize the success predicted to begin with.

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